Author: Katherine Creighton Crook

Date: 23 05 2019

Monday morning, 8:30 am. An unknown number rings my mobile.

‘Hi, you do massage, right? Do you have any appointments today? I woke up and my neck is killing me. I’ve had to call out of work.’

‘Yes’, I replied, ‘I could see you today at 3:30’. (I started at 3:30 as I had my son with me until 2)

‘Can’t you do any earlier? My neck is killing me. I don’t know if I can wait that long – I’m desperate.’

Has this ever happened to you?
You’ve planned your schedule, set time for your practice admin,  maybe even included some leisure / rest time, and a client calls up, begging you to see them outside your scheduled hours because it’s an emergency. 

What would you do?
Almost all therapists would struggle saying no to a client in this situation. Why? Well, we want to help people. We feel guilty saying no. We need the money, or we don’t want to annoy and/or lose a potential client.

But, if we’re always putting ourselves out to help people, we’ll eventually burn out, or the quality of our service will suffer. Chronic stress or burnout could lead to leaving practice permanently. And none of us want that. Mental Health Awareness Week in May highlights the importance of looking after your state of mind, and setting and sticking to boundaries can help.

First you have to get comfortable with having boundaries – being okay with saying no, or not right now. Once that’s sorted, it’s much easier to kindly refuse offers.

But, you might be saying, how can I get comfortable saying no to a client who’s desperate and in pain? It feels so selfish?

Start by thinking about why you need boundaries…
1.    Without boundaries, you‘ll burn yourself out.
2.    If you’re burned out, you can’t provide a good service.
3.    Without boundaries, your clients won’t respect you or your services - which WILL lead to late cancellations and no-shows.

Remember, all these things can lead to burnout or low quality services. When you create and enforce boundaries, you’re telling yourself and your clients that your time is valuable and that you are committed to providing an excellent service.

The next time you find yourself in a situation like this, and start to feel guilty about your boundaries, try this approach:

  • Tell them that you have to check your schedule and get back to them.  
  • Ask yourself: if I accept this appointment, what am I giving up?
  • Look at your other commitments - will you be compromising them if you say yes to this?
  • Finally, take a deep breath and check with your gut. Are you happy / looking forward to making this exception? Or do you feel tight and/or heavy when you think of accepting this request?

Once you’ve gone through this process, your answer should be clear.

As practitioners, we’re quick to help our clients but often do it at the expense of ourselves. Remember you can only provide an excellent service if you have the energy and resources to do so.

Want to know what I did?
This was early on in my business, coming back from maternity leave, and I wanted to build my client base. I arranged childcare for an extra couple of hours and booked him for an early afternoon appointment.

And guess what? An hour before his scheduled appointment, he called. He’d seen his GP, who sent him to an osteopath at the clinic. Seeing me as well would be overtreating, so he had to cancel.

Let’s just say I learned from that experience.

Katherine is the founder & principal therapist of a clinic in East London. She also runs a free facebook group for therapists – Massage Mentor Free Therapist Group, open to any therapists who’d like additional support.